theologyontheunderground

Random thoughts and questions


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I’m leaving, on a jet plane… Well, leaving anyway.

Exodus.

It’s a word usually following the preceding ‘mass’ (as in mass exodus).

Which is a surprisingly Biblical image.

A mass of people leaving, quitting the place where they were, walking out the door, turning their backs and going.

But leaving from where and going to do what?

In the book of Exodus, the people who were the descendants of Jacob, were leaving Egypt and going to… well actually, physically, they weren’t sure.  At the time, the important thing was that they were leaving.

They were leaving behind a whole bunch of stuff.  An economic status – where they were slaves, living tools for the Pharaoh to direct in building projects.  Politically, they were resented outsiders, who were being oppressed by threats against all their boy children.  Socially, their lives were being interfered with by this threat of infanticide by the Egyptian army.  They were also escaping a spiritual regime where one man stood in for the many gods of the Egyptian pantheon.

In other words, they were escaping from slavery to freedom – and in that, the geographic location of ‘where to’ wasn’t the priority.  This liberation is the result of God’s intervention and his command to Moses. He was their rescuer – their redeemer.

Their Exodus is a journey (physical and literal) that has economic, social, political and spiritual meaning.

As a result of this journey, a nation was born – one with a unique identity because of the way it came into being and the relationship they were gifted by God.   Not only were they rescued, the whole company was given a purpose – to be God’s people before the nations.  They were given laws that dealt with the release of slaves in a very particular way; there were laws about corporate justice systems and individual responsibility, about celebrating their freedom and keeping their freedom.

The exodus is the prime image of rescue and redemption throughout the Bible.  In describing Jesus, the exodus underlies the descriptions being used. The various aspects of the exodus – economic, social, political as well as spiritual – are all reflected in the language that the followers of Jesus employed as they talked about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  So for instance…

  • Economically – debts are forgiven, the price of redemption is paid and slaves are freed.
  • Politically – the phrase ‘Jesus is Lord’ was a subversive and dangerous one to the Roman overlords whose diktat was ‘Caesar is Lord’;
  • Socially – the new Christian community cut across boundaries – national, economic, gender – and brought new relationships into being.
  • Spiritually – there is a new relationship with God as Father.

In other words – the many dimensions of the cross are portrayed.

What would it be like in your situation, if the message of the Gospel was not just a spiritual one, but also economic, political and social?

The cross is not a way to escape humanity’s ills – its a way to engage with them.


How human do you feel today?

Moment of confession: I’m not sure I’m fully human until after my first morning coffee… Jeremy Vine on his lunch time Radio 2 show has been asking ‘What does it mean to be human?’ and the guest contributions have been quite fascinating and hugely varied.

Chris Wright looks at this through the lens of the Genesis account of God’s first commands to Adam & Eve, in other words ‘These things are your purpose.’  He also notes that the name Adam is closely connected to the Hebrew word for earth – so closely, that in fact translated the name could mean ‘earth-man.’  Adam is an integral part of the whole living eco-sphere, even though he’s about to be given a very particular role.  For Adam & Eve, read humanity: we do not exist separately from this planet; what affects it, affects us.

The commands that are given to Adam and Eve are these:

  • Be fruitful (Gen 1.28)
    Multiply – in fact, fill the earth. This bit humanity has quite successfully managed!
  • Rule over the land (Gen 1.28)
    This has been understood in many ways, with differing degrees of rapacity (sadly). Chris Wright’s interpretation is that this ‘dominion over’ or ‘subduing of’ the land is to be done in a way that is the image of God’s own kingship, ie we are to model his compassion and wisdom.  This instruction is not about tyranny over or exploitation of the land, but about stewardship – as the next words indicate…
  • Work the land (Gen 2.15)
    The oldest profession is gardener, not anything else. The word used is one that means ‘to serve’ – Chris Wright notes ‘with connotation of doing hard work in the process of serving.’†
  • Care for the land (Gen 2.15)
    Interesting one of the meanings of the Hebrew word that underlies the translation – which literally means ‘to keep safe’ – is to treat it ‘seriously as something worthy of devoted attention’ – ie by studying and understanding it.‡

Note that these commands form the mission given to humanity – the Christian is first a human (after coffee, anyway!) then a follower of Christ.

Chris Wright then goes onto explore how God’s people might more effectively think about the world around us as being a part of God’s plans – in worship, in redemption and in consummation.

Does all of this mean that the Church should be addressing a green agenda?  It does – the initial blessings bestowed by God are ones addressed to the living world.  ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ is a blessing addressed to humanity after the teeming creatures of both sea and sky have had a taste of it first!  What affects the planet affects us – we need to look after the world that first cares for us.

Does it mean that we can look at the living world as a place where God has spoken and can still speak?  A new and increasing interest in a nature-based spirituality that are very old (Celtic Christianity meets Forest Church) would say ‘Yes, we can.’

If we are aware of nature as the ‘second book of God’ (read Ps 19, verses 1-4) – how do we attune ourselves to hear things about God through it?

The more we are aware of the world we live in, the more human we are.

† p 51, ‘People who care for creation,’ Christopher JH Wright, ‘The Mission of God’s People’, Zondervan.

‡ ibid.


Looking wider (or – does my blog look big in this?)

There aren’t many books that are improved by starting to read twelves chapters in.  (Please feel free to suggest some that might do, if any occur to you.)

I mention this, because in the last blog, amongst other questions that arose, ‘Why start referring to the Bible at Genesis chapter 12?’ was one that was still lurking, waiting to be asked.

Actually, Chris Wright might be quite irked that I picked up his narrative at this point – because he very carefully starts at the beginning (ie Genesis chap. 1) and works forward from there. When he says ‘Whole Bible theology’ – he means it!

(Although it also has to be said, in considering the whole story*, he first references Jesus words of instruction to his followers to go and make disciples, which is set at the end of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – 28 chapters into the New Testament)

So what have I missed out?  The first 11 chapters of Genesis are big-screen stuff (quite literally in the case of Noah – although many would want to dispute large chunks of Darren Aronofsky’s recent epic film!); The universe comes into being, humanity springs up and falls over, there’s fratricidal murder, ecological catastrophe, animal rescue, drunkenness, sky-scrapers and city-building, the division of the nations…

These stories are the back-drop to Abraham’s story, describing a multi-ethnic region where cities abound, where trade goes alongside war and where immigrants were regarded with suspicion; an area where people thought ‘You know, once, it was all much nicer…’ Sound familiar?  The technology may be very different, but the people sound very much the same.

Within this back-drop is the thread of God’s reaching into the picture, indeed the making of the frame – his involvement in the whole business of the material world, his blessings, his judgments and indeed his first covenant promise.  (This covenant is notable because it is not made to an individual or a family or even just humans, but with every living creature on the planet.  Even cockroaches are recipients of God’s grace and promises!)  Many important themes that run through the whole of the Bible have their origin in these chapters (some would argue that all major threads start here).

SO – why start at chapter 12?  Mainly because the focus changes from ‘The way things are’ to ‘the story of a people charged with a mission.’  There is a movement from ‘pre-history’ to ‘the story of a tribe.’  The focus closes in on a single place and a single man; Abraham and his encounter with God that starts a whole new ball rolling and the beginning of a new episode in the story of God and humanity.

That story is something that the group of Jesus’ disciples understood as being their story; they were taking it on, making it real in their generation – obeying God to ‘Go – bless – and bless all nations.’  They weren’t starting something new; they were living out, sharing in a new way, the foundational and transformational message of God’s interest in and care for all people and nations.

So the question comes back to us again – is this our story? And how do we share it?

*Chapter 2 ‘People who know the story they are part of’, p 35, Christopher JH Wright, ‘The Mission of God’s People’, Zondervan.